Native artists featured in new show at college

Mike Easterling
This piece from Gloria Emerson's "Night Ceremony" series in featured in the "Between the Earth and Sky" show opening this weekend at San Juan College.

FARMINGTON – Michael Billie is better know to the local art community as a mixed-media/encaustic artist than a curator, but he finds himself taking more and more of a hand in the latter as time goes by.

The latest art project Billie has been charged with selecting the artists and work for is the “Between the Earth and Sky” exhibition opening this weekend at San Juan College. The show features the work of six Native artists from the Four Corners area, and Billie said all six are involved with the Navajo Artists Technology Innovation & Vision Enterprise Project that is operated under the auspices of Capacity Builders Inc. here.

Billie said he began putting the show together eight months ago, and it didn’t take him long to come up with the list of artists he wanted in the show. He settled on including Gloria Emerson, Sandra Cohoe, Antoinette Thompson, James Joe, Leandra Yazzie and James Perry. The work is both 2D and 3D in nature and ranges from contemporary to traditional in style.

“It’s very colorful work, and they definitely have indications of cultural subject matter,” gallery director Hannah Weston said, adding that most of the work consists of paintings, though Emerson also has some jewelry included in the show.

Billie said he’s known Emerson, a member of the Navajo Nation, for many years and has admired her work since she operated a coffeehouse and gallery in Shiprock. She has worked for the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and the Southwestern Association of Indian Arts, along with a number of other nonprofit organizations.

Work by James Joe is featured in the "Between the Earth and Sky" exhibition at San Juan College.

Emerson and Joe are the two best-known artists in the group, Billie said, though the others are considered up-and-coming painters.

“For a lot of them, this is going to be their first gallery show, so that’s a nice experience for them,” he said.

Joe is another Shiprock artist, and Billie said many Farmington residents are probably unaware that they pass his work every day, as he painted a mural on a building on North Allen Avenue between Main Street and Arrington Street.

Thompson has been particularly busy of late, Billie said, as she created a mural for the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Ariz., and has a solo show coming up at a gallery in Winslow, Ariz.

Billie said he’s planning on doing more work as a curator in the future. He’s in the process of putting together a show of Native artists who will open at the Durango Arts Center in May 2016. He said the center’s exhibits director, Mary Puller, asked him if he’d be interested in arranging a show of big-name Native artists, and Billie laughed when he recalled his reaction.

“I said, ‘I don’t know any big names,’” he said.

But Billie started work on the project anyway and quickly accumulated a roster of artists that includes the likes of Tony Abeyta, a Navajo painter and jewelry designer.

“Lo and behold, I got them to agree to be in the show,” Billie said.

He said one of the things he enjoys about the experience of putting a show together is getting exposure for younger Native artists who find their work hanging alongside that of far more successful and better-known artists.

The work of Sandra Cohoe and five other Native artists is included in the "Between the Earth and Sky" show at San Juan College.

It has other benefits, as well, he said.

"It's great for networking," Billie said.

“Between the Earth and Sky” remains on display through May 27.

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

If you go

What: Opening reception for “Between the Earth and Sky” art exhibition

When: 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, May 6

Where: The Henderson Fine Arts Center art gallery on the San Juan College campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington

For more information: Call 505-566-3464